Linwood City Hall

LINWOOD — City Council amended a zoning ordinance last week to ban short-term rentals in the city. Short-term is defined in the ordinance as less than 30 days. The purpose is to retain a neighborhood feeling in the city.

Residents had contacted the city code enforcement office earlier in the year about residences in the city having different people renting and staying in homes for a few days or weekends and leaving. The neighbors’ complaints ranged from noise to parking, according to Councilman Darren Matik.

While city Solicitor Joseph Youngblood said the city code already prohibited the rental of a residence for overnight stay because that would be considered operating a business from within a residential zone, he said the new amendment would leave no gray area of what is and what is not permitted in Linwood, and assign penalties if they violate the ordinance.

Web services such as Airbnb and HomeAway make it easy to advertise short-term rentals. The ordinance cites short-term rentals as frequently resulting in public nuisance, noise complaints, sanitation issues, overcrowding and illegal parking in residential neighborhoods.

A quick search of Airbnb showed only one property in Linwood listed for rent. While the rental property address does not show until the rental agreement is executed, the property is similar to homes in the Catalina Cove condominiums along Patcong Creek.

Matik said that when he looked at the calls into the code enforcement office, he first thought the city could regulate the rentals.

“But it kept coming back to us that the taxpayers expect us to keep the community feel that only can be established by knowing your neighbors,” said Matik. Unlike its across-the-bay neighbor Margate, a community full of second homes, the councilman said Linwood is filled with families who live here year-round and do not want to have short-term renters in their neighborhoods.

“If you live in Ocean City, you know that your neighbors may be renting their property and there will be different people living there, and there is an expectation of that living in a resort area, but that is not what you expect if you purchased your property in a residential neighborhood,” said council President Ralph Paolone. “I am an attorney and I deal with noise complaints frequently, and when I examine most city codes I see these nuisance ordinances often as unenforceable. We wanted to make our ordinance able to be enforced.”

The ban applies to the short-term rental of an entire property. The rental of any room or portion of a property in the city is prohibited for any length of time.

Councilman Brian Heun echoed the sentiment of Paolone and said that while he appreciates the rights of all property owners to do as they wish, the people who own property around them have rights as well.

“What we are trying to do is balance the rights of the property owners with the rights of the neighbors,” said Heun.

One resident, Howard Levinsky, said there have been weekend parties at a home in his Cedarbrook Lane neighborhood and he was requesting that code enforcement crack down on violators.

The ordinance passed unanimously. Violators can expect up to the maximum fine of $1,000. After they have been notified that they are in violation of the city ordinance, each additional day that the property owner is not in compliance will count as a separate violation and be subject to an additional $1,000 fine.

The council also introduced an amendment to a current ordinance that governs where and when the consumption of alcohol is permissible in the city. While several residents were opposed to what they believed was a relaxing of the ban on public consumption in the city, what is proposed limits the consumption to a specific event that would be sponsored by a Linwood-based organization.

Council President Ralph Paolone said the Linwood PTO was interested in having an event at the park similar to Good Old Days in Somers Point or the Margate Fall Funfest. Alcohol is able to be purchased and consumed at those events, but it is within a specific area like a beer garden that is specifically cordoned off. The councilman said any event that was being considered would need a permit from the Police Department and to be properly vetted before a permit would be issued. The ordinance would also limit the hours of alcohol consumption to between noon and 10 p.m. at the event only.

The ordinance will have a second reading and public hearing Sept. 26 following the 6 p.m. caucus meeting at City Hall.